Thursday, May 31, 2007

Step Away From the Computer!

Somewhat unwillingly, I will be away from the computer and out of touch for a few days. Given my virtual obsession with blogging of late, it's probably for the best. Besides, I will be learning more about another interest, scholarships for women.

Happy June!

Happy Birthday Meeta!

One of the darlingest of the Daring Bakers, Meeta of What's For Lunch Honey is having a birthday in a couple of days. Since I'll be out of town and away from the computer, Happy Birthday Meeta!

Meeta hosts the Monthly Mingle and this month it's all about the birthday. Since I'm confident that there will be lots of birthday cake, I decided to make you an appetizer for early in the Mingle. Making good use of some more puff pastry left over after the Gateau, I decided to make flaky and savory salmon, mushroom and rice turnovers. I suppose this could also qualify for a leftovers event, but these are pretty swank leftovers. I used some other left over items, like rice and salmon that had been cooked the day before. This is a made-up recipe, but turned out well.

The pastry puffs and gets golden and flaky. The filling is a mellow combination of cooked salmon, sauteed mushrooms and green onions, cooked rice, thyme, and non-fat sour cream. A little egg white wash sticks the top and bottom pastry together and glazes the top for shine. Hot from the oven these make a great starter course, or, combined with salad or soup, a couple make a full meal. If you are going to have lots of cake and ice cream, you don't really need anything else...well, maybe some champagne!

Meeta's Birthday Turnovers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
2 green onions, sliced, including some of the green tops
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 cup - 1 cup cooked salmon, in small chunks, no skin
(I used left over grilled salmon, which worked well)
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup non-fat sour cream
salt and pepper
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed if frozen
1 egg white

In small skillet, sautee the mushrooms and onions over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the thyme and stir in thoroughly.

Put the rice, salmon, sour cream, and mushroom mixture in a microwave safe bowl. Stir well to mix all the ingredients together. Heat on half power for one minute in the microwave. Taste. Adjust seasoning (add salt and/or pepper if needed) to your taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Take one sheet of puff pastry and lay it out on a lightly floured board or pastry cloth. Cut it into nine square pieces. Place some of the filling, about the size of a walnut in it's shell, in the middle of one of the squares of puff pastry. Brush egg white around the sides of the square and place another square on top. Press down all the way around to seal. Then using the tines of a fork, press the edge of the packets all the way around. Place the turnover on a Silpat mat or piece of parchment paper placed on a baking sheet. Repeat for the next three packets. Set aside the last square.

Take the next sheet of puff pastry and repeat as you did for the first sheet. The extra square will match up with the extra square from the first sheet to make another turnover. In all you will have 9 turnovers. If there is any filling left, save for another use (perhaps as an omlette filling?)

Place the baking sheet(s) into the preheated oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes. They are done when the turnovers puff and are golden brown.

These can be made with half the filling and each square folded over the filling to make a triangle for hors d'oeuvres. Serve hot.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Grandma L's Super Salad

Grandma L joined us for dinner tonight and brought a really delicious salad. We tend to get into a rut with familiar foods. I usually combine lettuce, a cheese, some veggies and some nuts, with, now and then, dried fruit. If I'm in a hurry it's just lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and squash.
Grandma L's salad was great in part because it was such a different combination. Since I didn't make it, I'm just going to give ingredients and leave the proportions to your imagination and discretion.

Start with crisp dark green romaine lettuce. Grandma sliced hers into mostly bite-sized pieces. Then add grated carrots, marinated mushrooms, sliced (many markets now carry them with the fresh olives), fresh small brown mushrooms, quartered, and roasted red peppers, cut into bite-sized pieces. She dressed the salad with olive oil, balsmic vinegar and dill weed. The flavors really went well together and it was refreshing and good.

This salad makes a great entry to the Salad Stravaganza hosted by Lis of La Mia Cucina and Kelly of Sass and Veracity. The goal of eating more salads is really easy as summer approaches and more and more beautiful veggies are available. The event continues well into June, so consider making a salad and joining in the fun.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

St. Honore' Gateau

Each month, as the time approaches for the Daring Bakers to find out what the challenge will be for the next month, the agony of anticipation is tremendous. Will the recipe be a good one, will the skills needed be extraordinary, will I hate one of the flavors or components, will the aggregate butterfat finally cause a heart attack?
For the month of May the answers are yes, maybe, no, and maybe. In honor of the patron saint of bakers, whose feast day fell earlier in the month of May, the Daring Bakers are making Gateau St. Honore', a confection of puff pastry, cream puffs, chibost pastry cream, caramel and whipped cream.

The recipe provide by Helene and Anita was comprehensive and well written.
The fact that it was four pages long was cause for a little apprehension. It can also be found at the bottom of this post.

I learned new skills as I worked with the puff pastry and, for the first time, made cream puff paste. The first cream puffs I made were too tiny, so I made another batch of larger ones. It was so easy that I hope to make eclairs next. I burned my thumb while coating the tiny extra puffs with caramel, but that was because I used a reflex reaction to one falling toward the floor and grabbed it, still very hot with molten sugar, instead of letting it fall. When the next one did hit the floor, I had to keep the dog away or he would have eaten it and burned his tongue. I would never make it as a professional pastry chef. Every bit of counter space was occupied by the end. My kitchen was a mess. Thank you Babs for the Silpat was perfect with all that super hot sugar.

The taste of the St. Honore' cake was sublime. The richness was evident, but the flavors were nicely subtle.The pastry cream especially was delightful. I flavored mine with rum.
As for the heart attack, there certainly was a lot of butter fat once you added the puff pastry to the butter in the puffs, the whole milk and whipping cream in the pastry cream and then the additional whipped heavy cream on top. My solution was to give a piece to Sweetie, eat a piece myself, then take all the rest of it to the wonderful folks at our local library. For months they have been commenting on all of the baking books I've been checking out, especially those with yummy cakes as the front photo. They had a booksale the next day, so I knew that a treat was in order. My heart, to say nothing of my thighs, benefited, too.

As fate would have it, no sooner had I returned home from the library than I received a phone call from my oldest friend. She needed me to drive to Richmond and meet her in the Kaiser ER. We spent over 7 hours, well into the wee hours, but she is doing better, so it was worth it. I was so glad that I had finished the challenge first and had all that fun in the kitchen.

For the recipe, go to Helen's site here. It may look daunting, but it can be done in stages. I made the puff pastry ring and cream puffs a day before I made the pastry cream and caramel and put it all together. You could also make the pastry cream first a day in advance.

When you are finished, you have a delicious, impressive looking cake. I'm sure that St. Honore' is pleased with the Daring Bakers and will be pleased if you make it, too.

This recipe starts with some comments by Helene who is the hostess for this month along with Anita. The group is growing so quickly that I've stopped counting how many members there are.

"Turns out that May 16th is Saint Honore (pronounced o-no-ray) Day, patron Saint of pastry chefs and bakers. It also turns out that there is a very traditional cake named after him: Gateau Saint Honore. It is the “must pass” element of pastry school students and it is a cake that includes several elements and techniques that bakers should try at least once: puff pastry, cream puff dough, caramel and pastry filling. There are many fillings as they are bakeries: chiboust cream, pastry cream, Bavarian cream (aka Diplomat cream).

The cake building goes like this:
- base of puff pastry
- rings of cream dough baked on top (so that the cream sticks)
- cream puffs set on the pastry filling or hooked to the base with hot caramel
- cream filling to fill everything

I compiled recipes from Bo Friberg’s books “The Professional Pastry Chef” editions 3rd and 4th, and "The Advanced Pastry Chef". It is straightforward and very close to what you would find nowadays walking on the streets of Paris and popping into a bakery (close our eyes, you’re there).

I realize it calls for time consuming puff pastry so you can use store bought that is totally fine, but if you have never made it why not try. It is just a long process, but the recipe given below makes more than you need so you can freeze it and use it later for something else.

The recipe for the Saint Honore cream is flavored with rum and that may not appeal to you, so substitute an alcohol that you like more (Grand Marnier, White Godiva, Kirsch,…), or use vanilla, without changing the filling altogether.

Make them round, square, oblong, heart shaped…your call.. Have fun!

Before you say “oh my lord is she crazy?!” The only difficult part I could foresee is the cream puff dough, but once again it is a very cool technique to learn if you have never made it before. (just remember the words “thick mayonnaise”!)

The cream filling and the puff pastry (if using)can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
One more thing: the caramel is necessary to hook the puffs but if you are caramel challenged and don’t feel like using it to decorate the remaining of the cake and do not wish to end up like Jenny perched on high chair spunning sugar you can totally skip it.

Last thing: I liked the idea of co-hosting so new members would not have to wait a year or so to participate and I asked Anita from Dessert First to co-host this month. We are going to do it “round –up” style but modified because of logistics issues. We will divide the DB between our two blogs and list your name –blog- post url on our respective blogs."

Gateau Saint Honore: Components and respective recipes follow:

Puff pastry
Pate a Choux – Cream Puff Dough
Saint Honore Cream
8oz sugar for caramel
1 cup heavy cream + 1 tsp sugar

Pate a Choux – Cream Puffs Dough

4 ¾ oz. all purpose flour (135 gr)
1 cup water ( 240 ml)
2 oz unsalted butter (58 gr)
¼ tsp. salt (1 gr)
1 cup eggs (240 ml)

Sift the flour and set aside.

Heat the water, butter and salt to a full rolling boil, so that the fat is not just floating on the top but is dispersed throughout the liquid.

Stir the flour into the liquid with a heavy wooden spoon, adding it as fast as it can be absorbed. Avoid adding it all at once or it will form clumps.

Cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the lumps if necessary, by pressing them against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a mixer bowl. Let the paste cool slightly so that the eggs will not cook when they are added. You can add and stir the eggs by hand but it requires some serious elbow grease.

Mix in the eggs, one at a time, using the paddle attachment on low or medium speed. Do not add all the eggs at once. Check after a few, the dough should have the consistency of thick mayonnaise.

Transfer the dough to a piping bag and use as desired.

Pate Feuillete – Puff Pastry:

Makes about 2 1/2 pounds.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface (420 gr)
3/4 cup cake flour (105 gr)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (7 gr)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, well chilled (60 gr)
1 1/4 cups cold water (295.5 ml)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (14 gr)
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, well-chilled (405 gr)

1/ Make the dough package: In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours with the salt. Scatter butter pieces over the flour mixture; using your fingers or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.

2/ Form a well in center of mixture, and pour the water into well. Using your hands, gradually draw flour mixture over the water, covering and gathering until mixture is well blended and begins to come together. Gently knead mixture in the bowl just until it comes together to form a dough, about 15 seconds. Pat dough into a rough ball, and turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly, and place in refrigerator to chill 1 hour.

3/ Make the butter package: Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon flour on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Place uncut sticks of butter on top, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon flour. Top with another sheet of paper; using a rolling pin, pound butter to soften and flatten to about 1/2 inch. Remove top sheet of paper, and fold butter package in half onto itself. Replace top sheet of paper, and pound again until butter is about A inch thick.

Repeat process two or three times, or until butter becomes quite pliable. Using your hands, shape butter package into a 6-inch square. Wrap well in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator until it is chilled but not hardened, no more than 10 minutes.

4/ Assemble and roll the dough: Remove dough package from refrigerator, and place on a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, gently roll dough into a 9-inch round. Remove butter package from refrigerator, and place it in the center of the dough round. Using a paring knife or bench scraper, lightly score the dough to outline the butter square; remove butter, and set it aside. Starting from each side of the center square, gently roll out dough with the rolling pin, forming four flaps, each 4 to 5 inches long; do not touch the raised square in the center of the dough. Replace butter package on the center square. Fold flaps of dough over the butter package so that it is completely enclosed. Press with your hands to seal.

5/ Using the rolling pin, press down on the dough at regular intervals, repeating and covering the entire surface area, until it is about 1 inch thick. Gently roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 9 by 20 inches, with one of the short sides closest to you. Be careful not to press too hard around the edges, and keep the corners even as you roll out the dough by squaring them with the side of the rolling pin or your hands. Brush off any excess flour. Starting at the near end, fold the rectangle in thirds as you would a business letter; this completes the first single turn.Wrap in plastic wrap; place in refrigerator 45 to 60 minutes.

6/ Remove dough from refrigerator, and repeat process in step 5, giving it five more single turns.Always start with the flap opening on the right as if it were a book. Mark the dough with your knuckle each time you complete a turn to help you keep track. Chill 1 hour between each turn. After the sixth and final turn, wrap dough in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight before using.

Saint Honore Cream (Rapid Chiboust or Diplomat Cream)
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (7 gr.)
1/4 cup cold water (60 ml)
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar (130 gr)
½ cup all-purpose flour (70 gr)
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk (500ml)
1 Tb. rum
¼ cup whipping cream (57 gr)
3 egg whites
dash of salt
1/2 cup sugar (105 gr)

Soak the gelatin in the 1/4 cup of cold water.

Put the sugar, flour, and salt into a saucepan and stir together with a whisk. Add the yolks and enough milk to make a paste. Whisk in the remainder of the milk.

Place over low heat and stirring constantly, cook until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Stir in the whipping cream.Set the mixing bowl in cold water and stir until the cream is cool. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and using clean beaters, whip them with the dash of salt. As soon as the whites begin to stiffen, gradually add the 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until they are very stiff. Fold the egg whites into the cooled cream.

8 oz sugar (240 gr)

Caramelize the 8 oz. of sugar: Fill a bowl that is large enough to hold the pan used for cooking the sugar with enough cold water to reach halfway up the sides of the pan. Set the bowl aside. Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and cook until the sugar until it has caramelized to just a shade lighter than the desired color. Remove from the heat and immediately place the bottom of the pan in the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. (See below to see when to do this step)


Roll the puff pastry out to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick, 12 inch square (30 cm). Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate covered at least 20 minutes.

While the puff pastry is resting, make the pate a choux and place it in a pastry bag with a # 4 (8mm) plain tip. Reserve.

Leaving the puff pastry on the sheet pan, cut a 11 inch (27.5 cm) circle from the dough and remove the scraps. (An easy way to cut it is to use a 11inch tart pan as a “cookie cutter”). Prick the circles lightly with a fork.

Pipe 4 concentric rings of Pate a Choux on the pastry circle. Pipe out 12 cream puffs the size of Bing cherries onto the paper around the cake.

Bake the puff pastry circle and the cream puffs at 400F (205C) until the pate a choux has puffed, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375F (190C) and bake until everything is dry enough to hold its shape, about 35 minutes longer for the cake and 8 minutes longer for the cream puffs (just pick them up and take them out as they are done).

Place about 4 oz (114 gr) of the Saint Honore Cream in a pastry bag with a #2 (4mm) plain tip. Use the pastry bag tip or the tip of a paring knife to make a small hole in the bottom of each cream puff. Pipe the cream into the cream puffs to fill them. Refrigerate.

Spread the remaining cream filling on the cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set the cream.

Caramelize the 8 oz. of sugar:
Fill a bowl that is large enough to hold the pan used for cooking the sugar with enough cold water to reach halfway up the sides of the pan. Set the bowl aside.

Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and cook until the sugar until it has caramelized to just a shade lighter than the desired color.

Remove from the heat and immediately place the bottom of the pan in the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

Dip the cream puffs into the hot caramel, using 2 forks or tongues to avoid burning your fingers.

Place them on a sheet pan. The caramel must be hot enough to go on in a thin layer. Reheat if necessary as you are dipping, stirring constantly to avoid darkening the caramel any more than necessary. Also, avoid any Saint Honore cream to leak out of the puffs and get mixed in with the caramel while dipping as the cream can cause the sugar to recrystallize.

Whip the one cup of heavy cream and teaspoon of sugar to stiff peaks. Place the whipped cream in pastry bag fitted with a #5 (10mm) star tip. Pipe a border of whipped cream around the top of the cake. Arrange the cream puffs, evenly spaced, on top of the filling, next to the cream.

Option: Before filling the cake, take care of the cream puffs, dip them in more caramel, hook them up to the base. Fill with the cream filling and fill the holes with the whipped cream.

To recap:
3 modifications possible:
- puff pastry can be store bought or made follwing the recipe provided
- liqueur in the cream filling can be omitted or changed, oranges or lemons can be used, but no chocolate or coffee,... The idea is to keep the cream white/off white
- shape/size of the cake
- cream puffs set on the cream or dipped in caramel and glued to the base
Anita and Helene (which interestingly enough is pronounced "hell-en") co-hosting.
Stone throwing very optional...
Due date: Sunday May 27th

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Five Questions

Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody recently posted an interview on her site. Kirstin of Kirsten's Home Cooking had her choose 5 question to answer out of 8. At the end Peabody invited readers to volunteer to be interviewed by her. I was curious what questions she would ask. Here they are and my answers (she asked me five, so I answered all of them):

1. You seem to garden a lot. Would you rather be in your garden or your kitchen and why?

I am spending a lot of time in the garden this year. For the second time in my life I have enough time and the energy to do a big garden. The last time was 20 years ago when we moved her and that summer I didn’t hold down a paying job. I always do some gardening, but usually it’s been limited in the past by other time commitments.
I’d rather be in my kitchen than my garden. I just love to use the fruits, vegetables, and herbs from the garden in the kitchen. Today is a perfect example. I should have been fertilizing the plants, but yesterday I found that the grape leaves were perfect size and age (still young and supple) for stuffing and I picked a bunch to blanch. I love dolmas and have wanted to try making them for years, but never had the time. Today I found that there were enough male zucchini flowers to stuff, so I picked them, too. Then, instead of being in the garden, I had a wonderful morning in the kitchen making dolmas and baked stuffed zucchini blossoms. Guess what is really true is I like to eat and be creative with food. I could live without gardening, but would be miserable if I couldn’t cook.

2. What made you want to join the Daring Bakers challenges?

I was inspired by the croissant three-day marathon. Not only was the challenge daunting and exciting, but it was clear that a lot of fun happened among the bakers, too. Each one of the participants except one had blogs that I regularly visited, too, which made it even more fun to read about. Guess I wanted to have some fun with the girls and see if I could meet the challenges. Not only has it been fun and forced me to try things outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve started to bake more and have ‘met’ a wonderful group of very supportive, generous people.

3. What is your favorite meal from childhood?

Thanksgiving turkey dinner is hands down my favorite meal. I love turkey. The most memorable Thanksgiving dinner was the year by sister was born (she knows who she is) because Mom was in the hospital. My older brother, sister and I cooked the dinner. The turkey was undercooked. The peas were burnt. The potatoes were lumpy and cold. The kitchen was an amazing mess. Within a few months we were given cooking lessons and began to cook one night a week. I was 10 or 11 at the time and up to then had mostly baked for fun. So glad that sister was born, especially at Thanksgiving!

4. Who is your biggest inspiration in life? Who is your biggest inspiration in your food life?

My biggest inspiration in my life has been my Mom. She was college educated and had a career during the war, but her real career, according to her, was to raise a family. She also volunteered, was active in politics and the church, and was almost always ready for a cup of tea with me after school. I’m also college educated, but worked part-time some of the time while my children were growing up so that I could be available and spend time with them. I have been active in politics, have volunteered in a number of ways and even taught a church school class with kindergarteners one year (but never again). I wouldn’t change any of it. When my son died at 16, I was especially thankful that I had spent so much time involved in his life.
My Mom is also the biggest inspiration in my food life. Unlike many cooks in the 50’s and 60’s, she made many things from scratch, showed us how to stretch a pound of meat (an important skill when you have ten people sitting around the dining room table), made jams and jellies, canned, and took real joy in seasonal foods. When the strawberries were ripe, we had shortcake. When the first tomato of the season was ready, we had BLTs. Asparagus were prepared very simply, so we could enjoy them in their spring glory. My dad grew up on farms and may have encouraged the former city girl in this appreciation. The whole family would go and pick berries, peaches, and grapes in season and then return home to prepare them. She is an outstanding baker, too. My cooking reflects that seasonal approach and I don’t mind lots of peeling and chopping, blending and stirring. I feel lucky that she was willing to pass along so much when, in truth, she doesn’t like to share her kitchen.

5. You say in you bio that you are a novice artist. What kind of art are you into?

My current passion is watercolor. I’ve been working in watercolor for about a year and a half, but only recently found my style. I really enjoy the spontaneity of wet on wet watercolor painting. I’m hoping soon to be proficient enough to do portraits. Many years ago I would sketch people and have always been interested in drawing people.
I also have been taking a lot of time to enjoy photography, not only for blogging, but compositions in nature. I have no training, but I’m slowly learning what works and what doesn’t.
In the past I spent years doing stained glass designs, often making the patterns myself. With progression of my eye problems (4th nerve palsy) stained glass is more taxing than enjoyable.
I have an associate’s degree in graphic arts and do pro bono newsletters for non-profits and the occasional job, which is also artistic. The eye problem has curtailed that as a profession, but I still enjoy what I can do.

Peabody, I really appreciate that you interviewed me and that you obviously put a lot of thought into the questions. I’ve been enjoying your blog for about a year now and love your passion for baking.
So that's a little more about me than you might want to know, but I'll bet you read it anyway :)

Do you want to be interviewed?
Here are some directions:
1. Leave a comment saying, "Interview me."2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Beware, I may ask personal questions! Please make sure I have your email address.3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

A Duo with Mint

The sun is shining. The grape leaves are large, but young and supple. The zucchini are blossoming on the rediculously large number of plants I planted this year. The mint has grown tall in the lower field near the grapes and ollaberries. I need an entry for Waiter, There's Something in My...Stuffed Fruit/Vegetable, being hosted by Jeanne at Cooksister.

Inspiration came twice. First I decided to make dolmas, a dish that I've long enjoyed, but never made. Dolmas are grape leaves stuffed with a mixture that usually contains rice and mint. Sometimes they have ground meat, sometimes currants, cinnamon, allspice or other spices. I found a recipe that only needed a few changes at Great Party Recipes website.

My version uses yellow onion, a different amount of tomato and green onion, and more lemon zest. It also used fresh grape leaves, since I have them in abundance. We don't have a vineyard, but there is a prolific set of vines in the lower field and they are very happy this year.

The next idea I had was to make stuffed zucchini flowers. The stuffing recipe I decided to use, which I found at the CUESA website, also used mint. I followed the recipe closely, except that I made mine minis by putting a couple of stuffed flowers into small souffle dishes.

The dolmas were easy to do, but took some time. A good tip is that when preparing the mint, roll a few leaves together and make a chiffonade like with basil, then cut across the shreds to mince them. I discovered that because I was using fresh grape leaves that they were different sizes and needed differing amounts of filling. I also found that placing the filling far enough into the leaf that I could fold the stem end on top of it, rather than placing the filling right at the stem, seemed to work well. After they were cooked and cooled I sampled one. It was even better than at the deli. The taste was fresher and the lemon was zingy. I'll be doing this one again.

The stuffed zucchini blossoms were delicious, but the blossoms themselves sort of got lost in the filling and crumbs. If I make them again I'll go easier on the crumb mixture. There was left over filling from both recipes, so, for lunch, I mixed them togehter in a skillet, added freshly steamed zucchini slices and heated it all up. That went very well with the stuffed zucchini blossoms.

Fresh mint and even zucchini blossoms are available in season at farmers' markets. You can purchase grape leaves in brine. These are both tasty dishes for a meal when you are doing small dishes. Dolmas make great appetizers, too. Ones with meat are served hot and ones without meat are served at room temperature.


35-40 large fresh grape leaves, rinsed to remove any impurities, or 8 ounces grape leaves, in brine (about 40-45 leaves)
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups cooked long grain rice
2 green onions or scallions, finely chopped
½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1 tablespoon zest of lemon
½ teaspoon fresh lavender flowers, chopped (optional)
Salt to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
boiling water (about 1 cup)

Blanch the grape leaves in boiling water, drain in a colander, running cold water over them to cool them. Set aside to cool while making the filling. Alternately, if you are using grape leaves in brine, place them in a large heat-proof bowl. Pour just enough boiling water over the leaves to cover and let them soak for about 20 minutes. Drain again and rinse under cold running water.

Filling: Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir often to keep them from burning or becoming too brown. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the rice, mint, lemon zest, lavender, and pine nuts. Mix thoroughly; making sure the rice is well-coated with oil. Taste and add salt if needed, to taste.

Line the bottom of a shallow pan or skillet, with a tight fitting lid, with grape leaves. Take the rest of the cooled grape leaves to your work area. Spread out one grape leaf in front of you, vein side up and stem end toward you. Place 1- 2 teaspoons of the rice mixture in the center, fold stem end over the filling, bring the sides of the leaf toward the center and roll tightly, forming a cylinder. Repeat until all the filling or all the grape leaves are used. As you finish each cylinder, place it on top of the grape leaves in the skillet, seam side down, placing the cylinders close to each other, touching. If at all possible, keep them in a single layer.
Drizzle with the lemon juice and ¼ cup of olive oil. Add enough boiling water to almost cover the dolmas. Cover the pan tightly and simmer for ½ hour. Remove from heat and let the dolmas cool in the pan. Serve at room temperature. Garnish serving platter with lemon slices if desired.

Adapted from a recipe at

Friday, May 25, 2007

Into The Garden

A month ago the garden was calling to me to come away from the keyboard, out into the sunshine and fresh air and to get my seedlings planted, the weeds pulled, some flower seed started, and some mulch spread. I was looking forward to squash and tomatoes and wildflowers at the very least.

A month later and I made my first harvest today of some small green and yellow zucchini. The plants are growing and seem to be happy, the first tomato blossoms are opening and a couple of the wildflowers are blooming. The wildflower area is filled with plants in a mat of various kinds of foliage. Next month, if not sooner, I'll have photos to show you. Should be beautiful!

Some new things have been added in the last month. A friend gave me some bright geraniums and I bought a six pack of deep blue lobelia. Sweetie bought me some Russian Red Basil, which is in one of the planters with the lobelia.

I planted some morning glories and sweet peas. No flowers yet, but the plants are starting to climb the supports. I started some seed of regular cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, and chard. Yesterday they were big enough to plant. Most went into containers (look at the last container on the walkway), but a couple went into the ground, protected with anti-gopher wire netting.

I discovered that some violas, nasturtium, calendula and poppy plants self-seeded. I weeded carefully around them, so they are now ready to bloom. Parts of the garden even received bark mulch. Now I need to weed again and spread some more mulch.

It is so much fun to go out into the garden and harvest the first fruits of my labor...squash, sweet squash. Keep an eye out in the coming month for recipes that make use of the 'future food' that is now food ready for the kitchen.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Burger with Gobble Power

What could be better, now that the weather is warmer, than some burgers cooked on the outdoor grill? As part of the Burger Ballyhoo, created by Paul and Freya of Writing at the Kitchen Table, I decided to play around with some turkey for burgers.

For starters, I diced in a very small dice, some mushrooms and a couple ribs of celery and a clove of minced garlic. Those were sauteed in some olive oil, then mixed in a bowl with some Italian flavored turkey sausages from a local company, Willy Bird Turkey. I used three sausages, about a half pound. To these I added a pound of plain ground turkey, also from Willy Bird Turkey, an egg, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, plus 1/2 teaaspoon dried oregano. These were well combined in the bowl, then lightly shaped into 6 patties. Sweetie grilled them until they were just done (overcooking is the bane of turkey burgers) and served them on whole wheat buns that he had toasted on the grill.

They did not dry out and held their shape, partly due to the egg and oatmeal. In fact they were juicy. The combination of the Italian sausage and the sauteed vegetables and the herbs gave them lots of flavor. Even the guys who usually prefer beef said that they enjoyed these as a change. I like them because they are lower in fat than beef burgers and, well, I LOVE turkey.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Desert blue and silver in the pale moonlight
Coyotes yappin' lazy on the hill
Sleepy winks of light along the far skyline
Time for millin' cattle to be still...

So now the lightnin' s far away
The coyotes nothin' skeery...just a singin' to his dearee
So settle down you cattle...'til the mornin'

A cowboy's lullabye song, getting the cattle to sleep while on the cattle drive.

This was a song that I learned from a former Girl Scout leader when I was a girl. She was the wonderful, formidable, talented and independent woman whom I named my daughter after. She was 65 to my 12, but we became fast friends. So I'm inviting her to the latest Blog Party#22, hosted by Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness. Welcome to the party Mrs. Pat !

For the cowboy themed party, I'm bringing some Chuckwagon Meatballs, some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and some Cowboy Cookies...but of course. The meatballs are coated with a barbeque sauce made even better with garlic and the bite of mustard. The cookies are mini versions of the big fat cowboy cookies that take a 1/4 cup batter and fill the fist. Still tasty as little cookies and still with the great cowboy cookies flavors, especially the oatmeal.

Chuckwagon Meatballs

18 frozen meatballs...I used Foster Farms turkey meatballs
1/2 cup barbeque sauce - your favorite brand
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Thaw the meatballs on half power in the microwave or overnight in the fridge.
In a glass measuring cup combine the barbeque sauce, mustard, garlic, and pepper. Microwave on high one minute. Stir, microwave on half power one minute.
Gently stir the meatballs into the sauce, coating the meaballs with the sauce.
Microwave on half power a minute at a time, checking after each minute, until heated through. Serve with toothpicks, one for each meatball.

Cowboy Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped toasted pecans

On a sheet of waxed paper, combine the flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugars, white and brown, until well mixed. Add the eggs and vanilla. Mix until light and well mixed. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips, cranberries and walnuts.
Cover dough and chill 1 hour.

Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Form dough into balls, using a melon scoop of dough for each. Place on greased baking sheets, spacing cookies 1 inch apart. These will make appetizer size cookies. (For larger cookies, make balls from teaspoons of batter up to 1/4 cup of dough for super sized ones.) Bake 8-10 minutes for small cookies or until cookies are golden brown around the edges. transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. (For larger sized cookies, cook longer, up to 15 minutes.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Memories of Tea

Taking tea has been one of the things shared between mothers and daughters in my family for generations. Way back before I was even a twinkle in my Dad's eye, mother was sharing tea with her mother, perhaps with some Irish soda bread. Later, when I was of school age, I'd come home and have tea with my mom. We often discussed politics since she and I were both interested in that topic.

My daughter and I had tea parties when she was little, with tiny tea pots and cups. Later we'd have tea when she wanted to have some time just with me. After college when she lived nearby, we'd sometimes go out for tea on the weekend, sampling egg salad sandwiches and scones with whipped cream and jam. She even found me a beautiful calico tea pot for my birthday one year. By accident, I broke the handle. Then for mother's day she looked high and low and found an exact replacement! I treasure that teapot and the memories of our shared tea parties.

Now she has topped even that. Today I unwrapped a box mailed from Seattle. Hidden under a layer of packing materials, snuggled in three boxes, were a teapot with lid, two saucers, and two teacups. What makes them so incredible and special is that she painted them all herself at a ceramics studio. She even painted cute little flowers which are at the bottom of the cups. They hide under the tea until it is almost gone, then appear like magic.
I actually cried tears of joy when I opened this gift. I was talking to my sweet daughter on the phone while I was opening them, so she asked me to turn the teapot over. On the bottom was written 'Happy Mothers Day 2007'. So wonderful! On the bottom of the saucers and cups she had written the different ways she calls me mom, plus the year. Mommy, mom, mama, mother and a heart. This is a treasure beyond price.

So this afternoon, I toasted my lovely, thoughtful, talented daughter. I toasted my Sweetie and the son we had together. I toasted mothers everywhere and those who reside in our memories and in our hearts. Happy Mothers's Day - 2007.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Little Red Rubies

What do you do when you have bought some roadside cherries that aren't very good? They weren't very expensive, so I guess I got what I paid for, but that doesn't really help. They look good, like little red rubies, all shiny skin and green stems. And they taste like cherries, but in a half-hearted way, as if someone sucked some of the flavor out of them.

After eating a few out of hand, I decided that a cherry clafouti might salvage these puppies. Since I'm attempting to do a better job of healthy cooking, I tried a recipe in the book 'Weight Watchers Entertains'. I made individual servings and used a blender instead of an electric mixer. That, or the fact that I may have cooked them a little too long (I was distracted by watering my garden), may explain why this clafouti was more like a dutch baby pancake with cherries. Could be that I really did need to marinate the cherries in kirsch or use rum instead of almond extract. Could have been that the batter decided to keep the cherries company by being sort of tasteless. Next time I'll follow the recipe (maybe). One thing I will do is add some lemon zest to liven things up a bit. That said, I still managed to polish off my portion. A dollop of half and half helped the flavor if not the calorie count.

Cherry Clafouti

Serves 6

4 cups pitted fresh sour cherries

2 tablespoons kirsch

3 large eggs

6 tablespoons sugar

1 - 3/4 cups fat-free milk

1 tablespoon dark rum

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1- 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 2-quart baking dish with nonstick spray.

Marinate the cherries & kirsch in a bowl at room temperture for at least 5 minutes or up to 1 hour.

With an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar until foamy. Mix in the milk, rum, vanilla, and salt. With the mixer at low speed, stir in the flour until all the flour is just moistened.

Spread one-third of the batter in the baking dish. Scatter the cherries evenly over the batter. Spread the remaining batter over the cherries, covering them evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Per serving (1/6 of clafouti): 180 Cal., 6 g Fat, 4 g Sat Fat, 32 mg Chol., 142 mg Sodium, 40 g Carb, 3 g Fib, 2 g Protien, 42 mg Calcium. Points:4

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mustuse Pie

For years I worked for a doctor who had his practice located on an old cherry orchard property near Occidental. He had remodeled an old barn down the hill from his home, and turned it into a great office, with stained glass and Oriental rugs and a wood stove. Since it was far from the usual medical centers, it became what he called a 'self-limiting' practice.

One of the nice things about working there was that over time I became friends with most of his children and family, as well as with the others who lived on the farm. Each year when the Derby race took place in Louisville, KY, there would be a Derby Day party at the farm, too. The doctor and others at Rainbow's End grew up in Louisville, so it was a traditional party, with mint juleps and a betting pool. We would watch the race on televisions set up high over the heads of the enthusiastic crowd. For many years it was a huge party, but in the last few years it has become smaller, which I like better. This year, on Saturday, I brought my Mustuse Pie for the potluck and enjoyed catching up with some pretty nice people.

So what, exactly, is a Mustuse Pie? It's the kind of dish that gets put together when you hunker down in front of the fridge and go through it. This half of a baked potato gets pulled out along with these steamed broccoli flowerets, the rest of the egg substitute, some non-fat ricotta cheese, those blanched green beans, a bit of cooked chopped spinach, this tomato which is starting to soften, but is still good...all the leftovers from the week that we must use up. I have Grandma L. to thank for this cute name for what is basically leftovers.

Since lots of the folks at the potluck are vegetarians, I didn't add any meat or poultry, or even fish. I did boil up some whole wheat spaghetti, broken in half first, but otherwise mostly used leftovers. You could add cubed cooked chicken or turkey, some sausage, or cooked shrimp, too. This isn't really a hard and fast recipe, but sort of suggestions for your own combinations of items that are 'must use' when you make the pie. It may sound like a hodge podge, but it sure makes a tasty dish.

Mustuse Pie
serves 4-6

1/2 lb whole wheat pasta, cooked al dente', and drained well

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped

1/2 baked potato, cut in half and sliced

1 cup or so blanched green beans, cut into one inch pieces
1 cup or so steamed, chopped spinach (O.K. to use frozen, but drain well)
1/2 cup steamed broccoli
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed

1/2 lb ricotta cheese (I used non-fat)
3 eggs, or equivalent egg substitute
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Salt & pepper

1 medium to large tomato
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Oil the bottom and sides of an 8 inch diameter pie plate.
Cook the pasta and drain well.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick or seasoned cast iron skillet, then saute' the onions and garlic until onions are transluscent, about 4 minutes. Add the potato and cook another minute or two until one side is lightly browned.
Add the beans, spinach, broccoli, basil and rosemary to the skillet, stir, cover, reduce heat, and cook until vegetables are just heated through.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and feta cheese with the eggs, mixing well to blend. Stir in the drained pasta, then fold in the vegetable mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.
Pour into the prepared pie plate. (If there is too much for one pie, just oil another pie plate and make another pie with the rest.)
Slice the toamto into 5 or 6 slices. Arrange over the mixture in the pie plate, then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the pasta starts to brown and the cheese melts. Cool slightly before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Charming Bistro in Petaluma

One of the delights of blogging is that I can read post of writers from around the world, and they can read mine. Reading about the differences in culture and food traditions and seasonings in other locations encourages me to experiment a bit and do a bit of vicarious dining, too.

On an evening like today's, however, I feel sorry for fellow bloggers who don't live within driving distance of Petaluma, California. I met my fellow blogger, Anna, at a lovely small restaurant just south of the new theatre district in this small town on the Petaluma River in Sonoma County. It is called le Bistro and has been serving dinners to lucky diners for a number of years. It is a bit off the beaten path and seems to be one of those places that the locals like to keep a secret. Here's hoping that a vicarious experience of this little bistro will make it a little easier if you can't come in person.

When I drove up the door was open, inviting you in. There are cafe' curtains on the lower section of the windows along the front in true French style. Once inside you notice the linen topped tables with small candles, the music playing softly in the background, and the open kitchen with the Chef /owner Corey Basso hard at work. The lovely young woman at the front of the house was welcoming and attentive.

I started with the special soup of the day, Red Pepper Tomato with Pesto. It came in a simple white flat soup bowl, a lovely golden red with a swirl of pesto. All of the subsequent dishes were beautifully presented, too. The soup had a wonderful depth of flavor, a hint of texture from the red peppers, and the basil in the pesto enhanced the tomato flavor.

Anna had a salad of fresh and lively mixed mesclun, a generous amount of gorgonzola, toasted pecans and the perfect amount of dressing just coating the leaves. While the starters were being prepared, we managed to polish off a basket of good French bread and some butter.

There were a number of interesting entrees to choose from. The special of the day, Alaskan halibut with a dijon mustard crust and buerre blanc was appealing, and they had two different chicken dishes, but I decided that the tenderloin of lamb with red wine and rosemary had even more appeal. Anna decided on the tenderloin of pork.

They both came with roasted potato rounds and an assortment of vegetables. Often such an assortment will be cooked together and taste of the same sauce. Not so with these. The asparagus spears were grilled, the carrots were thinly sliced and seemed to be poached in a salty broth, and the tender young green beans were perfectly cooked with a haunting herbal note that may have been tarragon, but it was very subtle.

Unlike some fancy (and more expensive) restaurants that serve exquisite food, but in tiny portions, the portions here are generous. The lamb slices covered half the plate, were accompanied by an excellent sauce, and were tender and delicious.

The potatoes came in a cute stack, browned and crusty on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. Everything was seasoned to perfection. Anna said that her pork was equally delicious. For her review go here. If it's not up yet, try a little later. She has a lot of reading to do tonight for school.

We could easily have stopped there, but when all the other food was so good, dessert seemed like a good idea, and it was.

Anna had the Brandy Cherry Parfait, with rich ice cream, brandied cherries, fresh strawberries and kiwi fruit, and freshly whipped cream. Some crisp cookies added a nice crunch.

I had a Kahlua Gelato Torte with Chocolate Sauce. It was a very warm evening and it proved to be a challenge for the kitchen to keep the torte from melting, but it arrived with a fudge and nut topping, chocolate fudge swirl under the slice of torte, scoops of whipped cream and even some strawberries and kiwi garnish. The torte had a distinct coffee flavor and was very rich. It went well with the excellent coffee we had with dessert. The perfect ending to a fine meal.

So if you do live within driving distance of Petaluma, consider coming to Le Bistro for dinner. You'll be glad you did. But let's keep it a secret, O.K? With only ten tables, I don't want it to become too popular since I'm likely to be back soon.

le Bistro
312 Petaluma Blvd. South
Petaluma, Ca 94952
credit cards accepted